The Fairness Doctrine is Ancient History

“Well, how bout this one, Elie– we have the votes, let’s abolish the fucking Fairness Doctrine and get the old show on the road,” said the skeleton.

For the benefit of those who have no idea what the Fairness Doctrine was, a bit of, eh, history.   Starting in 1949, when television was in its infancy, the FCC came up with a requirement for broadcasters, licensees who used the limited public airways built and maintained by We The People, when presenting public interest content, to give both sides of any contentious public controversy equal opportunity to influence public opinion.  

“If you gave air time to a spokesman for everyone’s irrefutable constitutional right to as many guns as they want and the freedom to take them everywhere they go and use them freely anywhere if they feel threatened, or even just a bit paranoid, well, a spokesman for people who are not insane had to be given a chance to present their side and rebut that opinion.  It was called The Fairness Doctrine, a quaint idea today.  

“The FCC apparently abandoned the doctrine during the Reagan Administration, when the votes lined up to begin consolidating media and getting rid of anachronistic, idealistic, safeguards against the mass media becoming a propaganda machine for one side or the other.  

“Which makes sense, since the Reagan Administration can be seen as a kind of fork in the road, making the right wing cool.  And as Yogi is reputed to have said ‘when you come to a fork in the road, take it.’  

“Under the Fairness Doctrine if a licensee down south ran segregationist programming and censored all national news about the civil rights movement, the public in its broadcast area had a right to also hear a non-racist point of view and the broadcaster was obliged to air it.   They actually yanked the license of at least one broadcasting outfit who refused to give what were then quaintly called ‘nigger-lovers’ a chance to rebut the network’s view.   You can imagine how many righteous souls that decision pissed off.  

“And, of course, if you want to influence partisans and maintain your political power, the main thing you need is a powerful echo chamber.  You don’t want the other point of view considered, or even heard, it must be vilified and ridiculed so it can be dismissed reflexively.  If you chant your slogan you don’t want the other side to get even sixty seconds to state all the reasons your slogan is pure idiocy.  

“I used to get a kick out of listening to Rush Limbaugh, as you recall, the massive, cast iron balls of that whacked out right wing drug addict used to give me a kind of kick of adrenaline.  

“Over time you have not one Rush Limbaugh, who reminded me of Father Coughlin, the old populist anti-Semite who ranted on the radio about ousting that cunning old Jew Franklin Delano Roosevelt from office, but dozens, hundreds of Rush Limbaughs.  Scroll through the radio dial, and between legal disclaimers about the views expressed, you will hear the passionate partisan stylings of countless rabid dogs.  Most of them right wing, many of them very well-paid.  Advertisers love them.  And why not, hatred has always been a winning business model.  

“Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, with the government no longer having any requirement over broadcasters to present any nuance at all, you get calm acceptance of things like the government proscription of showing the caskets of dead Americans returning from wars that are only explained in the most idiotically partisan terms.  ‘Freedom is on the March’ and ‘Support our Troops’ is all you need to say over and over to get people waving American flags and wearing them on their lapels.  American flags made in China, of course.  

“There need be no actual discussion of any of this, mercifully, unless you happen to listen to some fringe pirate station not owned and controlled by a giant profit-seeking corporation.  And everyone knows those people are just crackpots.  Why would you want to show a parade of American coffins coming back from anywhere anyway, you sick bastard?  

“We don’t have much conversation in the mass media, not that there ever was a long supply of that, but people talking past each other and partisan false equivalencies are the rule now, everything reduced to an over-simplified either/or.   As you say, people who wear blue hats support the charismatic guy or lady with the blue hat on, same for red hats.  It’s not about the actual issues, it’s if the person is on our team or not.  A sad day for America, but, if you look back to the beginning, it’s always been a sad day for Americans with little power over their lives.   Two sets of laws has always been the case here.  

“You heard that guy, Mike Lofgren, interviewed by Bill Moyers about the Deep State.  The permanent shadow government is not a new thing, the interests it represents go back to the Founding Fathers, but it’s entrenched and protected in ways we couldn’t have imagined generations ago.  He described it as ‘a hybrid association of key elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States with only limited reference to the consent of the governed as normally expressed through elections.’  

“He set out the workings of our current deep state, now organized largely around, and justified by, the so-called War on Terror, that bold war against fear itself: deregulation, privatization, deindustrialization, financialization of the economy, Wall Street as the only casino in town, widening wealth disparity,  permanent war, surveillance state, etc.  It all takes on the air of the inevitable, but… well, you know, it’s by deliberate design, to maximize profits. 

“When Henry Wallace was the popular people’s choice to succeed the ailing FDR, and he had massive support at the 1944 Democratic convention, right wing business and political leaders got busy talking to the DNC.  Wallace was an anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, non-racist, egalitarian who had been FDR’s Vice President through the war, and before that a very capable and savvy Secretary of Agriculture, to the left of FDR, throughout the New Deal.  

“When Henry Wallace gave a speech about the post-World War Two era being the Century of the Common Man, it excited millions of common men and women in America and gave hope to enslaved people worldwide.  He advocated federal regulations to guarantee equal pay for equal work, for men, women, people of all races.   He supported the right to collective bargaining and a right to arbitration for all workers in disputes with their employers. The status quo could not tolerate this sort of shit, it stood to lose trillions of dollars.   The Commies hated our freedom and, literally, wanted to take everything the rich and their grandparents had worked for generations to acquire.

“Harry Truman was a senator of limited experience and influence, perfect for the uses of the Democratic party machine and the powerful forces they represented.  Within 24 hours they’d brought support for Truman as FDR’s V.P. from around 2% up to a robust 90% or so on the third vote, and all it took was an overnight adjournment of the convention vote and the granting of a few hundred political appointments.  

“After that third ballot Truman would be the next president, Wallace was done, the Cold War started, Civil Rights legislation and Equal Pay legislation, and the rights of labor, put off for a generation.  Then, after a few fitful years of modest progress on each of these things, shoved off for another couple of generations.

 “The Fairness Doctrine would not apply to cable TV stations, or the internet, but the abolition of it, in hindsight, was just another sign of which way the wind was blowing.   Who needs Fairness when it’s Morning in America, Elie, or when we’re Making America Great Again?  You dig?”  The skeleton beamed, a slightly mad glint shining in the eye sockets.  

“Consider this, though, Elie, which one of us is the madder, the guy who is dead and buried or the one putting words in his mouth almost twelve years later?  Hmmmmmm?”

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